5 Unusual Fourth of July Celebrations in America

Every year, Americans celebrate their Independence Day on July 4th - usually with barbeques and fireworks, but sometimes in very unique ways.

29 June 2021

Also known as Independence Day, July 4th is a national day of celebration in America. It commemorates the Declaration of Independence, which ended British colonial rule in the United States back in 1776 and made it a free nation – so it’s a pretty big deal for many Americans! 

There are tons of different ways to celebrate this summertime holiday, from flashy fireworks and parades to backyard BBQs with plenty of hamburgers and hot dogs to go around. But there are also many regional, quirkier traditions, depending on where you are in the country. Here are some of the most unique Fourth of July celebrations.  

Hot Dog Eating Competition: New York City, NY


hot dog eating competition

Every July 4th, a restaurant in Coney Island, New York City holds a hog dog eating contest. The occasion is the biggest event that the Major League Eating organization (yes, it’s a real sport) holds every year, and it’s attended by tens of thousands of spectators. Last year’s winner was Joey Chestnut, who ate 75 hot dogs in 10 minutes!  

Students studying abroad at nearby New York universities, such as Columbia, can easily make the trip out to Brooklyn to witness a live competitive eating competition. But you can also catch it on sports channel ESPN – which airs the event every year – if you don’t happen to be in the area. 

Marshmallow Fight: San Diego, CA


colorful jumbo marshmallows stacked on a plate

The laidback, picturesque neighborhood of Ocean Beach in San Diego has its own food-based Fourth of July tradition: a giant marshmallow fight! It started back in the 1980s, when a couple of local families jokingly lobbed pillowy white confectionaries after a neighborhood BBQ. The event grew in popularity, eventually becoming so large that it became a nuisance, due to the large crowds and sugary sweet mess left behind.  

In recent years, the event has calmed down (or “mallowed” out, according to Ocean Beach town council), but if you’re in San Diego – University of California has a campus there – you can still check it out.  

National Fence Painting Contest: Hannibal, MO


white fence with a Tom Sawyer's Fence sign in front of it

Fans of American literature will want to check out this unique event, held annually in Hannibal, Missouri. The city is the birthplace of famed American author Mark Twain, who wrote “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”. Every year, thousands gather to watch a re-enactment of one of the book’s most famous scenes, where protagonist Tom convinces someone else to paint a fence for him. The event has become a competitive affair, with contestants dressing up like characters from the book and racing to paint their patch of fence the fastest.  

Lobster Races: Bar Harbor, ME


close up of a lobster

Head up to New England, where they have no shortage of seafood to feast on – in fact, it’s a tradition there to have an Independence Day dinner of poached salmon and egg sauce. In Bar Harbor, Maine – which was voted one of the best Fourth of July celebrations by National Geographic – they put their shellfish to other use, by racing lobsters! Crawling crustaceans don’t actually move along that quickly, so don’t expect a sprint across any finish line here. But the atmosphere is always good-natured and jovial.  

Tug of War: Bolinas and Stinson Beach, CA


people player tug of war

If you’re in the San Francisco Bay area – including students at University of California, Berkeley – make the short drive to Marin County. Every Fourth of July, the neighboring towns of Bolinas and Stinson Beach battle it out with a massive tug of war across the channel of water that separates the two communities. The celebration dates back over 120 years and attracts thousands of spectators, who watch as teams of 30 try to drag the other side into the shallow lagoon water.

sparkler and American flag
sparkler and American flag

5 Unusual Fourth of July

Celebrations in America
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